Monday, March 12, 2018


Even the mighty Frank Lloyd Wright didn't waste time
doing fancy drafting when he was still hashing out ideas.
This one eventually turned into Fallingwater.
Lots of my clients hire me to review designs which they’ve drawn on a do-it-yourself computer drafting program or, worse, painstakingly drafted by hand.  They usually put enormous effort into drawing fastidious little toilets, curtain rods, and so on, trying to make the plan look “professional”, while paradoxically, they put comparatively little thought into the design itself.   

That’s a big mistake. In order to produce a really well thought-out design, you have to explore lots and lots of different schemes—what architects call iterationsThis in turn means you shouldn’t spend a lot of time drawing up any one scheme until it’s clear you’re close to a solution. It’s much better to end up with a whole pile of messy solutions that work than to produce one spotless drawing that's a loser.  
The Swiss architect Le Corbusier was renowned for his
scribbly sketches, which he never hesitated to include
as illustrations in his numerous books.

 When a person invests a lot of time in a drawing—say, a floor plan—they have a natural tendency to covet it, regardless of how rotten a solution it really is. Then, when some glaring error is pointed out, they become defensive, since they’ve probably just wasted their last eight weekends slaving over a drawing that’s fatally flawed. 

“Your bathroom opens onto the dining room,” I’ll say to a proud client.  “We’ve got to fix that.”  To which they invariably moan, “Oh, no!  I spent so much time on this drawing!”  

Your best friends—lots of cheap paper,
a waste basket, and a willingness
to keep on trying.
If you’re thinking of building an addition (or a whole house) and want to explore  a few design possibilities—whether to save on architectural fees, or just to give your architect a starting point—try the approach many architects use:

• Don’t do initial design sketches on a CAD program—you'll spend most of your effort trying to make the drawing look good, which is a waste of time at this point. Draw on paper. But don't draw on expensive paper, either. Draw on flimsy tracing paper (available in art and drafting supply stores in 12”x50’ rolls). Why? First of all, it’s cheap, and you won’t feel guilty tossing wads of it into the recycling bin as you search for a solution. Second, since tracing paper is transparent, you can overlay your basic sketches without having to draw the whole blasted thing over and over again. You can focus on just the parts that still need work.  

•  Do try lots and lots of quick, sketchy solutions. Don’t waste time making your drawings look tidy; regardless of what your first-grade teacher may have told you. Neatness is unimportant at this stage of the game. The more schemes you try, the more likely you’ll converge on a good solution.

Multiple design sketches can help you
sort out what works, and what doesn't.
•  Don’t get mired down in one basic approach. This is a deadly trap for neophyte designers. You end up drawing the same basic solution over and over again, perhaps with trivial variations, while possibly overlooking one or more completely different—and better—solutions. If you don’t seem to be moving forward, quit. Take the problem up again the next day when you’re refreshed, and try to take a whole new tack on the problem.

•  Finally, don’t get too attached to your sketches. Remember, they’re a means toward an end, not a work of art. Yes, you've probably spent dozens of hours on your design and, yes, it hurts when people point out shortcomings—but you should always be willing to take criticism, whether from your architect, your spouse, or your twelve-year-old. The end result will just be that much better.

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